After a week of outdoor education work north of Lake Tahoe I reported, only slightly tardy, to Carson City for the pre race
meeting for my sixth start of the TRT 100. The weather was hot, windy and threatening a thunderstorm. Hundreds of us gathered in the grass near the capitol building as RD George Ruiz got going a bit early to try and beat the storm. A good size branch was blown out of a tree and landed in the crowd, fortunately rendering only minor injuries, but also rendering an end to the meeting for many of us.
The TRT 100 is, in my opinion (drawing from a limited sample set), one of the classic hundreds, featuring two fifty mile loops on and around the Tahoe Rim Trail on the north east side of Lake Tahoe. The name is slightly misleading as we’re running on the TRT for only 15 miles or so each way; basically a figure 8 shaped loop, the race begins at Spooner Summit, heads north on the TRT to Diamond Peak Ski resort, then back to the start via Snow Valley Peak. It’s a hilly course with something north of 18,000’ of elevation gain. The race is the best supported race I’ve done and feels like one big, long party. The aid stations and their volunteers are spectacular and are my inspiration for the Bishop Ultras, which I now direct.
Saturday, July 21 – race day! After allowing myself a 9 hour sleep window of which maybe six was actual sleep, (thanks to Bose noice cancelling headphones, a black out face mask, and a sleep-promoting sounds app) I made a 2:30am start for a quick breakfast at the Plaza, and the bus ride up to the start at Spooner Lake. Lots of barely awake runners were mingling around the start, most talking excitedly and fidgeting with their gear. It was good to connect with running buddies from past races including Doug and Marie Donovan, from Las Vegas, David Binder from the Bishop Ultras, and many others.
George got us going promptly, after playing “America the Beautiful”; with a loud cheer we were off! In the twilight of the starting line I enjoyed running past cheering onlookers who lined the sides of the dirt road.
I started maybe a fifth the way back in the pack and settled into a mix of fast walking and slow running, seldom getting passed or passing. The route starts pretty much flat or slightly uphill for a couple of miles and my strategy was to go out at the pace I thought I’d use on the second 50 mile lap. This meant walking runnable uphills and taking it pretty easy. I always wonder at these affairs, how is it going to work out for all those young does and bucks who are going so fast so early?
By the first aid station, Hobart, six miles in, I was feeling good and waking up… to siatica in my right leg, a first. It bugged me for fifteen or twenty miles but never made it past the ‘worriesome niggle phase’. Looking back at the splits I think I was in 60 something place when I rolled through Hobart.
I enjoyed running with David Binder through this section and on down to the next aid station at Tunnel Creek. Somehow I didn’t get a photo of the Tunnel aid station, but it was great to be greeted there by Kaycee Green and other friends from past TRTs. I was in and out of these aid stations in seconds and started the big, steep, downhill into the famous Red Hill Loop, in which you lose over a thousand feet on a steep dirt road, cross a couple of creeks, run on a level flume road for a couple of miles, then climb steeply back up to the Tunnel aid station. Red House seems kinda notorious but the six miles go quickly, and is actually quite pleasant if you take it easy on the downhill. Much of it is quite runnable, and it’s important to consider how these runnable sections will feel the next time through, fifty miles later!
As a bird geek, I’m always birding during my races and it is on the Red House Loop that I see and mostly hear the greatest number of birds. This time around, in addition to the usual suspects, I heard a Great Grey Owl, a rare species. It sounded close so I stopped to scan the nearby trees but failed to locate it. I played its call on my phone and confirmed that my bird and the recording sounded the same. The Red House Loop felt fast and comfortable, and at times I experienced the coveted ‘flow state’, where I was able to simply enjoy the sensation of moving through the air and land, listening to the sounds of the forest and my steady breathing. Of course that all ends when the loop comes around and rejoins itself; the steep climb out of Red House begins against a steady flow of 50 mile runners whose race starts an hour after the hundred runners. It’s steep, but can’t be more than ten minutes of wishing it was over, and soon enough – it is! Lesson: all hills eventually end so long as you are moving. Onward, I got back up to Tunnel, grabbed my poles, and headed on to Diamond Peak, some 10 miles away.
By now it was mid morning and I was still feeling great, enjoying and trying to run most of the slightly rolling terrain between Tunnel and the long hill down to Diamond. This section is never quite as easy as my memory says it’s going to be, though I appreciated the small creeks. Somewhere there’s a lesson in there… The day was hazy and the first sign of thunderstorm buildup was starting over Slide Mountain and also the south end of the course. I ran mostly alone on the long descent down to Diamond where it was fun to be greeted by Helen Pelster, who was awaiting hubby Javier. Making quick work of the aid station, with Helen’s help, I was sent off with one of her specialty coconut blueberry rice balls, which propelled me much of the way up the hill. I vow to have these stashed at a few of the Bishop Ultra aid stations! I also filled my running vest’s bladder with ice, as part of the strategy to get me up the next hill in the warming morning.
The climb back up to Bullwheel is also legend, gaining fifteen hundred feet in a scant mile and a half, but it too is over quickly, and the best strategy I can offer is ‘suck it up and KEEP MOVING (but don’t rush)!’ By this point in the race, 30 miles in, I always think “well, at least the end of the beginning of this run has come and gone”. As the climb proceeds the breeze picks up, along with the views, and soon enough the top arrives. There’s no reason to hurry on the hike, and every reason to get it done! There’s really only about 20 minutes of super steep slogging, the rest is pretty reasonable. Topping out at Bullwheel I didn’t need any supplies so headed on, passing through Tunnel just long enough to deposit my Carbon Z’s into my small drop bag. Incidentally, though poles are useful on the steep climbs out of Red House and Diamond I’m still debating if they are worth the time it takes to grab them and run with them where they are not needed. Perhaps next time I’ll go without.
The return to Hobart, was unremarkable for me other than I noticed what to me seemed to be pretty
significant thunderstorm build up south of Snow Valley Peak. We’d been warned that the lightening plan would include shutting down the course (which I still wonder how that would work, and how would it improve safety, especially for runners on the ridge between stations), and I didn’t want to get stuck at an aid station. I also didn’t want to get hit by lightening. So I worked my pace beyond what I thought I should, considering that in 12 or 15 hours I’d be back in this same place if all went according to plan. Jogging up Marlette Peak saved some time and so did spending mere seconds in Hobart. Shortly before Hobart I’d joined Angel Avila, from Bishop, who was making good time and who was pleasant company for five or six miles until he ran ahead of me on the long descent to the fifty mile aid station. We passed a number of runners as we ran at a moderate effort up the gentle hill to Snow Valley, for me the continued threat of lightening was a good incentive to push the pace a bit.
This time around the long downhill to the fifty mile aid station seemed to never end, this might have been one of my low points of the run. The phrase ‘end this hill this endless hill’ got stuck in my head, defeating it was the first of many mind control games I’d need in the coming hours. The storm held off, though we had maybe an hour of frequent rumbles and a couple of drops of actual rain. Once the day began to cool down the clouds quickly disappeared, back to the wisps from which they’d arisen.
Stonehenge! The aptly named fifty mile aid station is always a haven and it’s easy to spend some time there and one should have a plan for getting out as quickly as possible. Having done the race five times now (5.8 counting my 80 mile variation in 2015) I’m often asked ‘isn’t it hard to go back out knowing you have to do all that over again?’ Fair question. My thought on that is, every hundred has a fifty mile point. At least at TRT you have the benefit of knowing what lies ahead for the next fifty miles. How awesome is that? Anyway, I lost ten minutes at the aid station, messing around with changing shoes. I’d only put ten prior miles on the shoes I changed into, so I spent a few minutes walking around and trying to imagine how my feet would feel in 30 more miles, and ended up taking the risk. Which paid off, by the way, the Hoka Speedgoats felt good, albeit a bit cushy for my tastes.
Speaking of tastes I was also experimenting (I know, don’t experiment in races!) with a slightly new food strategy suggested to me by Ann Trason. To wit: eat 100-150 calories every half hour. That’s a lot of eating. But it seemed to be working, though by fifty miles I was starting to tire of the regime. It’s not that I didn’t eat well on prior races, but in the past my plan had always been to eat a bunch at the station, grab maybe one emergency item, and continue on, generally not eating again until the next station. Anyway, I’d placed a paper cup in one of the bottle pockets on the front of my race vest and at each aid station I’d grab 500 cals or so of whatever foods looked good, and put them in the cup. Certain items rattled around a bit and that’s something I need to improve for the next iteration of the system. As I jogged the easy miles out of Stonehenge I had a quarter of a grilled cheese in my hand and two more quarters in my trusty cup.
As the dirt road changed to trail, and the incline increased, I found myself still able to run and was feeling pretty good, and ended up running pretty much all of it up to the steeper hill just before the Hobart aid station. I passed Candice Burt and her pacer, both taking it easy on one of the benches along the trail, and I asked if they needed anything. They seemed in good spirits and so I was surprised later to learn that she’d dropped from the race.
Up at Hobart I met up with Tim Macisaac, from Truckee, and we ended up running together on and off much of the rest of the race. Hobart to Tunnel went fine, Tim and I chatted and ran most of that.
After a quick drop bag detour at Tunnel, for lighting supplies, Tim and I were off again for another lap of the Red House loop. Don’t fear it, love it! I told myself. Tim spotted a bear at the bottom of the hill and we watched it for a while before starting the short climb up to the actual Red House, once in a while shouting a precautionary “Hey Bear!!”. As evening advanced on us I also heard Poorwills, a bird and a fun opportunity to use the word ‘crepuscular’. I’ll let you look that one up if need be. Tim got a head of me for a bit here and for the first time of the run I found myself in distracting pain. Everything just hurt – my feet, my legs; I think maybe I was feeling some of the lingering effects from having run Western States a month earlier. I took one Tylenol and carried on, this was nothing I hadn’t had to deal with before and the pain could be ignored by putting it in the pain box, more on that later. I caught up with Tim later, at Bullwheel, he’d hit a low, and together we tried and succeeded to rally the three rolling miles (always harder than they should be!) to the start of the long downhill over to Diamond Peak. Something went right because soon enough we were down there and it was only 11:00pm, if memory serves.
After a quick food grab (burrito, coke, burrito for the road, ice, coke) we were on our way up the hill. Tim fell back a bit and I found myself climbing up the hill alone. Here a spell of drowsies kicked in and I found myself playing that game where you see how long you can go with your eyes shut. I was also in a wierd semi-sleeping state where everything seemed odd and somewhat hallucinatory – strange spiders on the ground, an errant mouse running with me; insects attracted to my light all seemed part of a fuzzy and weird headspace that wasn’t all that pleasant. Fortunately this didn’t seem to last all that long, I’d remembered Marie Boyd’s sage advice that if you get drowsy in the middle of the night it means you should eat, and so I did, and soon enough we were back to Bullwheel, Tim having caught back up on the uphill.
80 miles into a hundred is an interesting place to find yourself. I enjoy the mind control necessary to quiet the demons of negativity that can creep in. This is a type of meditation that in my experience comes only late in a hundred. If I become aware of un-constructive thoughts starting to creep in I have a few techniques I try. I focus on my stride and my breathing, and disallow any thoughts beyond the immediate. Consider only the next five minutes. But ‘Twenty miles left seems impossible! ‘ Control solution: don’t think about the twenty, think about the 3 to the next aid station. ‘It hurts!’ Control solution: what did you expect? Pain cave: imagine a box. Put thoughts of pain in that box, shut the lid. … that shower at the end is going to feel so good! Too soon to go there! Back to breathing and focus. For me this point in a race is a special time, where all that matters is distilled to the essence of movement and mind control. “The first fifty are run on your legs and the second fifty are run in your head!”
At Bullwheel I always have mixed feelings about encountering all the runners who still have all that loop to do – I’ve been lucky enough to be here and not there, there’s always a lot of runners coming from Tunnel who still have to do the ten miles down to Diamond and back up. I love the shouts back and forth of ‘good job!’ And ‘way to go!’ as we pass each other on that section of trail, but I feel for these folks who have to overcome the huge sinkhole that is Diamond Peak aid station at three in the morning, with twenty intimidating miles still to go and a coupla ‘significant’ hills. On the other hand, other than a few short sections of trail much earlier in the course, this section is where I see the most other runners and I find the energy and persistence inspiring – and motivating. I recall turning to Tim, at Bullwheel and saying ‘come on, lets see what we have left’, But Tim was in the middle of a back spasm earned on the climb up from Diamond and was having a hard time running. I told him I was going to give running ago, left him an Advil and a Tylenol, and at that point we broke up the band.
Back at Tunnel, which really ramps up in the middle of the night, I found myself increasingly energized, and possibly starting to let myself start smelling the barn. The last stragglers outbound were just arriving at Tunnel, they still needed to do Red House and the rest, as I jogged out. Tunnel felt like a well organized chaos – shouts and cheers randomly punctuated the night while amped up volunteers got me in and out in seconds. At this point I was really reaching deep, but felt pretty good. I decided to run easy up the climb out of Tunnel and found myself able to keep up this pace, to my surprise. I think it is Joe Uhan who said ‘fatigue is inevitable, slowing down is optional’; a phrase I often turn to at such times. I still don’t know if I believe it, but it’s an idea that I like to test, and surely would like to believe. I passed three or four runners on the downhill into Hobart, where I was, of course, offered a shot of tequila (declined). I wanted to maintain my momentum, which was mostly mental at this point, so I was in and out fast, and found myself still running the uphill towards Snow Valley.
For the first time in my six attempts on the course I found myself arriving at Snow Valley aid station in the dark. Sleepy Scouts welcomed me in and sent me off with a couple of bars and my last bottle of water. All hills have an end, and eventually the long downhill to the finish ended for me, just as it was getting light. I tried to finish strong and ran hard to the arch, happy and amazed to be welcomed by cheers and somehow still awake and exuberant people I didn’t even know. It’s a great race to finish and this was my favorite finish of my five so far.
I’d gone longer than I should without eating and so didn’t dilly dally at the finish area, rather went over to enjoy some breakfast and beer. I was really psyched to see Tim come rolling in not twenty minutes later, next in place behind me. I think we’d managed 11th and 12th respectively.
It was a great run for me – so great to see old friends, and make new ones, to feel the support of so many volunteers and other runners and their teams. Hopefully I’ll be back for #6 next year!